Can you keep a cat that you find in a plastic bag in a garbage bin in a public place?

Legal ownership of a rescued cat.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

The answer to the question in the title might, under some circumstances, be tricky but I’m going to try and simplify it. If you find a cat that has CLEARLY been thrown away i.e. abandoned, in a cruel way because you find the cat in a plastic bag in a garbage bin in a public, you can reasonably presume that the owner conclusively relinquished ownership to the cat and therefore in rescuing the cat you have not committed theft which requires that you “dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other.” The cat does not belong to another.

The whole answer depends on the intention of the previous owner and whether they wanted to totally abandon the cat and disassociate themselves with ownership. And you have to make a presumption (without hard evidence) that that is the case if you find the cat in a garbage bin in a public place.

But if you find a cat in a garbage bin on someone’s property it just might be the case – although highly unlikely – that the owner was punishing the cat by putting the animal in their garbage bin. This sounds bizarre and it would be bizarre and cruel but this is about ownership.

The reason why the question is relevant is because sometimes people do throw away their cats in a very cruel way and sometimes people find them before they die of their injuries or whatever and rescue them, love them, rehabilitate them and enter into a very close relationship with them. They might be concerned that the true owner will come forward to reclaim the cat.

And if the cat is microchipped which will be discovered when the rescuer takes the cat to the veterinarian for a checkup, that would indicate that there was a previous owner. The best thing to do would be to contact them if the microchip details are accurate and up-to-date.

There’s a little intermediate step there after the rescue. A box that needs to be ticked before you can commit yourself to a long-term relationship with the cat.

It’s not wise to take the cat to rescue center in my view to see whether the true owner comes forward because sometimes rescue centres screw up and they allow a third party to adopt a cat at which point you will be in competition with another person for ownership. And those competing arguments about ownership of a cat can be very lengthy and complicated.

Check that there is a microchip and if so, is the owner contactable and do they want to relinquish the cat? If they are uncontactable take ownership. If they come forward later argue your case or contact me in a comment and I’ll deal with them. Tick those boxes and then go ahead with claiming ownership for yourself.

Morally there are no issues with claiming ownership but this concerns legal matters. Morals and the law often meet but not always.

This is Magdalene who’s story I have described in the first paragraph. She is much loved by her rescuer.

This is Magdalene who's story I have described in the first paragraph. She is much loved by her rescuer.

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